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Cyprus Cyprus Talks Guest Columnist Opinion

Re-scaling the Cyprus talks

There are signs that talks are moving away from the balck and white chessboard style confrontation of the past

By Hossein Sadri

FIFTY-ONE years after the UN Security Council Resolution 186 which acted as the first physical step to divide the island of Cyprus and 40 years after the first intercommunal agreement in Vienna on the Voluntary Exchange of Populations, the division in Cyprus and the inconclusive negotiations between both sides continues pari passu and up and down. These talks, run by the leaders of both divided side, concentrated on developing entire solutions for all conditions. The situation reminds me of two kings remaining on the chess board, which is identified as a draw because an end to the game is impossible.

In this format a certain confrontation between two sides is unavoidable. The play is organised on a black and white board in which the two sides seek an equitable grey tone to colour all the sections and tools. To change the order and create a positive conclusion to the talks, the actors, acts and the spaces of this act need to be rescaled.

Such rescaling of the Cyprus talks would include the diversification of the negotiators and decision makers, the cascading of topics and changing the spaces of talk from the leaders’ meetings to the those of everyday life. This radical change in the architecture of the talks is strongly linked to an exhaustive understanding of the problems and the active involvement of civil society.

Starting with the Committee on Missing Persons during the 1980s and followed by the establishment of diverse technical committees in 2008, bi-communal efforts to diversify the decision makers and re-organise the specific, small scale and non-political issues of the talks are realised in the spaces other than the main negotiation table. The UN and EU bodies played a significant role in encouraging bi-communal cultural, social, economic and educational programmes, as did collaborative events such as the May Day and Peace Day celebrations in the Buffer Zone area. The possibility of visiting the “other side” after the opening of the check-points and eating, drinking, shopping and doing everyday activities together with the “other” people in the island has in the past 12 years transformed the island into multi-scalar spaces of meeting and acting. We can add the Confidence Building Measures as the initiative to create another dimension to the negotiation process and as a creative method of building hope and trust. To achieve a sustainable peace all these elements should be promoted.

The board needs to be cleaned from black and white cells and rearranged in rainbow colours. The play needs diverse players which are not standing against each other, but beside each other and aim to move together towards the desired peace.

The election of Mustafa Akinci, the architect and the former mayor of northern Nicosia and the leader of Turkish Cypriot community and one of the two main negotiators, can open a new potential for re-arranging the architecture of the talks.

Akinci is utterly aware of the necessity of multi-scalar attitude towards the negotiations from his past experiences in the collaborative works between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot municipalities in Nicosia. He gives the example of Nicosia’s bi-communal sewerage system project as a non-political, specific, technical and everyday life-related act which established a common space to develop collaborative actions on the master plan of the city. As an architect, he knows that starting from a problem of detail and expanding it into a more general perspective, even if it is against the technical urban procedures, can be “the answer” in the case of Cyprus.

During his election campaign, he introduced his four dimensional policies which are solution oriented policies, responding to social issues with independent, impartial attitudes and the re-arrangement of relations with Turkey based on mutual respect. These policies which address the diverse scales of the Cyprus problem will affect the everyday life of people and build hope such as the opening of Varosha and Nicosia Airport as part of his confidence building proposals. These four dimensional policies try to rebuild the motivations behind negotiations in internal political and civil society agencies and external regional and international players.

The atmosphere of the first meetings between the leaders was shaped by a strong awareness of the need to change the ground of negotiations. The leaders have tried to bring the negotiations to the everyday life of people by announcing diverse confidence building proposals. They aim to create short term and urgent changes in the life of Cypriots and to open new gates. The chess board should now be coloured and the players diversified. The international and regional conjuncture as well as the internal motivation of Turkish Cypriots improves the possibility of such a radical turn. Akinci may be the architect of peace in Cyprus if he can take the play out of the existing black and white squared background.

Dr Hossein Sadri is an associate professor of architecture in northern Cyprus

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